If you've been paying attention to the Chicago Auto Show over the past few years, it's no secret that there's less and less to talk about in the Windy City every year. (In fact, there's an inside joke here at Autoblog about how we want to skip the second press day and catch a boat tour of the city, despite the freezing temperatures.) But the thing is, Chicago is actually one of the most important North American shows, if only for the sheer number of people who come through the doors at McCormick Place to check out what's new from each automaker. And since these are the people who are actually going out and buying cars, it's still hugely important for automakers to have a presence here.
For us, the cars that debut in Chicago aren't nearly as exciting – or, some would say, important – as what's shown at the Detroit Auto Show just a few weeks prior, but there's still a lot to talk about. And as long as companies are still committed to bringing fresh product to the Chicago expo, we'll happily be there to cover it.
Like every other show, we've put together a list of what wowed us the most in Chicago. And like every other roundup of Editors' Choice picks, the Top Five list below comes straight from the heart – these are the cars that spoke to us more than all the others, not necessarily the most important debuts, or even the best ones. Check 'em out, below.
#5: 2014 BMW 740Ld xDrive
Here's a behind-the-scenes tidbit for you: Since so many of the Autoblog editors on hand in Chicago actually live in Michigan, we commonly drive over to the Windy City for the show. And this year, BMW diesel was the theme of our road trip cars. Brandon Turkus and your author drove over in BMW's 328d xDrive Wagon, and AutoblogGreen leader Sebastian Blanco made the trip in the hatch-less 328d xDrive Sedan. All of us found the oil-burning Bimmers to be great fun – and hugely efficient. Even with a snowstorm bringing us down, the wagon managed an even 42 miles per gallon with an average speed of 62 miles per hour. Great stuff.
But our test cars weren't the only diesel Bavarians at the Chicago, as BMW took the opportunity to pull the wraps off its 740Ld xDrive sedan. On its own, the 7 Series is a great car – both to drive and be driven in – and we think BMW's 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline-six (from the 535d and X5 xDrive35d) will be a great fit in the all-wheel-drive, long-wheelbase sedan. Maybe we'll have to order one of these up for the drive to Chicago next year...
#4: Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Concept
BMW wasn't the only automaker making diesel news in Chicago. Nissan has already announced its partnership with Cummins to provide a diesel V8 engine for the next-generation Titan pickup, but in Chicago, the Japanese automaker showed off a "What if?" concept involving its midsize Frontier pickup and a smaller-displacement engine.
Called the Frontier Diesel Runner Concept, the little truck is powered by a 2.8-liter turbodiesel inline-four, mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. Nissan says that this engine provides nearly 200 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque in this configuration. This means suggests that payload and towing capacity would be exactly the same as the current V6-powered Frontier, yet fuel economy would rise by as much as 35 percent – try 30 miles per gallon highway.
Of course, this concept was purely created to gauge consumer interest in a small diesel truck. But to say "we hope they build it" in the next-generation Frontier would be one heck of an understatement, especially considering the diesel-powered Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon on the horizon.
#3: 2015 Kia Soul EV
Continuing on with our theme of fuel efficiency (it's like AutoblogGreen rigged this list), our third-place pick is the production-ready 2015 Kia Soul EV. This zero-emissions box on wheels will launch later this year, boasting an 81-kilowatt electric motor that sends 109 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque to the Soul's front wheels. When fully charged, Kia says the Soul EV should be good for between 80 and 100 miles of driving, and charging times can take anywhere from 24 hours to as little as five hours, depending on your setup.
Executive Editor Chris Paukert had a chance to drive a prototype of the Soul EV late last year, saying, on the road, the EV felt "particularly buttoned down, delivering almost fullsize sedan levels of comportment." That certainly bodes well for the production model, which goes on sale in select markets (California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland) later this year.
#2: 2015 Subaru Legacy
On the more mainstream front, Subaru unveiled its 2015 Legacy sedan in Chicago. And while it's certainly not as good-looking as the coupe-like Legacy Concept that wowed us in Los Angeles last November, the end result certainly isn't bad. In fact, it's one of the better-looking Subaru products we've seen in recent years, partially because it's quite conservative and reminds us of many other midsize sedans (looking at you, Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu and Toyota Camry).
Like before, Subaru has fitted its 2015 Legacy with both a 2.5-liter boxer-four and 3.6-liter boxer-six. The base engine is estimated to achieve up to 36 mpg highway, which Subaru says is best-in-class for all-wheel-drive midsize sedans. Gone are the manual transmission offerings, though, with Subaru's Lineartronic CVT being used across the board (it's not a bad transmission, we promise).
Hopefully the fresh-faced Legacy can help Subaru pick up some market share in the hugely competitive midsize sedan segment. We'll definitely be interested to see what consumers think when this Subie hits the road in late 2014.
#1: 2015 Volvo S60/V60 Polestar
Chicago has a tendency to be sort of a sleepy show in terms of what's revealed. Even here on our Editors' Choice list, nothing shown above really pulls at the excitement strings. But then Volvo rolled out one hell of an exciting car.
Or should we say, pair of cars. That's right. Those brilliant Swedes chose the Chicago expo to show off the new Polestar-tuned examples of the S60 sedan and V60 wagon, both of which are coming to the United States later this year (in very limited quantities, natch).
Of course, our eyes were mostly glued to the handsome V60 wagon, shown here in the Polestar-specific Rebel Blue with 20-inch wheels. Under the hood, there's a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine that sends 345 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque to the wheels via a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. Combine that with upgraded suspension, beefy brakes and a premium interior, and the end result is a car (err, pair of cars) that we're super excited about. Congratulations, Volvo. Now, about our First Drive...
So... how'd we arrive at this list? Autoblog editors picked their favorites of the show, with each editor having a total of 25 points to distribute amongst their picks. All 25 points had to be used, and no more than 10 points could be awarded to any one car. Basically, instead of just lining them up one-through-five, this allows us to put more weight on the cars that we think were really special.
Unlike our list from last month's Detroit show, it wasn't exactly a close race, the Volvo models commanding a massive lead over the other Top Five winners. Here's a look at how it all broke down:
- Volvo S60/V60 Polestar – 98 points
- Subaru Legacy – 28 points
- Kia Soul EV – 25 points
- Nissan Frontier Diesel Concept – 18 points
- BMW 740Ld xDrive – 17 points
Part of the fun of doing this list is seeing what each individual staff member votes for. And since this is a point-based list, there are always a good number of cars that don't quite make the Top Five cut. Here's a look at the other things we liked in Chicago.
- Toyota TRD Pro Series – 14 points
- Lingenfelter Chevrolet Reaper – 11 points
- Volkswagen GRC Beetle – 9 points
- Chevrolet Corvette Black Widow – 7 points
- Ford Mustang pinball game – 6 points
- Nissan Versa Note SR – 6 points
- Kia Optima Hybrid – 5 points
- Volkswagen Passat Sport – 4 points
- Dodge Journey Crossroad – 2 points